Playlists are a very subjective form of media consumption that don’t just depend on an individual users’ music tastes but their listening habits as well. Often people create playlists for individual artists where 25-40 songs tend to be the sweet spot, or specific moods where it wouldn’t make sense to go over 50 songs. I won’t even attempt to generalize a universal, be all end all playlist length but rather talk about the one that works best for me.
I tend to use playlists as massive canvases for entire genres, dumping lots of songs into one place and then either scrolling through to find the exact one or just shuffling all of them and seeing what comes out. This means that all my playlists tend to number in the hundreds of songs, but within those there is still a good amount of variance. My indie rock playlist is pushing 500 songs and my electronic playlist is over 300, which is great for collecting any song I would ever want to listen to in one place, but can definitely be annoying to determine which songs truly belong and which I just added on a whim and skip every time I hear them.
I like to aim for a mix of having enough songs where it doesn’t feel stale but every song that comes on shuffle play still feels like the right song for that exact moment. This is a tricky balance to aim for, and I think I’ve cracked the code best with Lobster Queen, my vibey and genreless playlist that at time of writing is sitting at 156 songs. I wouldn’t describe this as an ideal length, there’s definitely work to be done, but this at least feels like a good ballpark figure where I’ll often find the exact song I was wishing for to appear on shuffle play as if I had summoned it while still acting as a good repository. I’ve been adding a lot of songs to it recently and I don’t plan on stopping, but I feel like I want to end up sitting at the 200 song marker, which seems like a nice middle ground for everything I want to get out of it.
I’m continually fascinated by playlists not just as collections of songs, but as their own unique art form. There’s so much to talk about and nerd out over, and the virality of Spotify Wrapped along with our passionate reactions to it shows how much the consumption of music has grown from a shelf of records to a topic of discussion of its own. And as a form of escapism, having lists of songs to endlessly tinker with and find the exact arrangement that works just can’t be beat. It’s so fun that you almost don’t even have to listen to the music itself. Almost.